Academic journal article Violence and Victims

Adult Attachment as a Criminological Construct in the Cycle of Violence

Academic journal article Violence and Victims

Adult Attachment as a Criminological Construct in the Cycle of Violence

Article excerpt

This study investigates whether the criminological construct of attachment plays a role in the link between family violence victimization experiences in childhood and adult violent behavior. Data collected from undergraduate students was used to estimate the independent effect of adult attachment type on the victimization-violence link and it was used to examine main effects and interactions between family violence-adult attachment types on adult violent behavior. Consistent with past research, results revealed significant associations between direct experiences of victimization and violent behavior. Multivariate analyses using interaction terms also found significant interactions, indicating moderation effects, which were further investigated. Results revealed that social learning theory may be useful in explaining violence among those who have experienced high victimization, whereas social control theory may be useful in explaining adult violence for those who have experienced low or no levels of violence early in life. Given this study's findings, further research to examine the means by which family violence victimization experiences develop into violent behavioral patterns is recommended.

Keywords: social learning theory; social control theory; family violence; violent behavior

Social learning theory (Bandura, 1977) is a well-regarded explanation for the victimization-offending link. In short, this theory states that experiencing or even witnessing violence early in life provides a framework for learning that violence is an appropriate response in certain situations, especially when the perpetrator is older, powerful, authoritative, and admired. This notion underlies the "cycle of violence." Yet the empirical relationship has been weak to moderate at best (Stith et al., 2000) because many victims do not go on to offend. Thus, other theories may be equally or more suitable in explaining the link. Emerging evidence points to the possible importance of attachment, but investigation of this construct, as defined in criminology and in social control theory is rare, especially for adults across various relationships. This study explores these competing explanations for the relationship between family violence victimization experiences and adult violent behavior.

Most studies of attachment in the cycle of violence have used the psychological construct found in attachment theory rather than the criminological construct found in social control theory. Attachment is conceptualized and measured differently in the criminological theory. For example, although psychological attachment theory (Bowlby, 1969, 1973) states that attachment is formed early in life and remains relatively stable over time, Adult Attachment as a Criminological Construct in the Cycle of Violence 211 social control theory argues that attachment can and does change over persons and time (Hirschi, 1969). In addition, psychological attachment theory focuses on internal working models based on caregiver responses to our needs, whereas social control theory focuses on our innate impulsivity that is inhibited by social controls; the latter argues we are all deviant but our bonds keep us from offending. Last, studies using the psychological construct often focus on categorical classifications (e.g., insecure, anxious/ambivalent, secure) whereas criminological studies focus on the relative strength (i.e., high or low) of attachment.

Experimentally speaking, if social learning theory is correct, strong attachment would explain the victimization-offending link; if social control theory is correct, negative attachment would. It is possible that one theoretical premise fits better than another, and it is also possible that theoretical explanations may vary based on the type of family violence victimization and/or adult relationship.


As stated, most psychological studies have focused on parental attachment. …

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